By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
JUNE 16, 2015
WASHINGTON — Front-office personnel for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past two decades, are under investigation by the F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors, accused of hacking into an internal network of the Houston Astros to steal closely guarded information about players.
Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals employees broke into a network of the Astros that housed special databases the team had built, law enforcement officials said. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, said the officials, who were not authorized to discuss a continuing investigation.
The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.
Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager, who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.
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Video | St. Louis Cardinals Manager’s Reaction Mike Matheny responded to an investigation by the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors into whether the St. Louis baseball team hacked into the computers of the Houston Astros.
The attack would represent the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of another team. Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but they are generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large amounts of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics.
Major League Baseball “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database,” a spokesman for Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a written statement.
The Cardinals personnel under investigation have not been put on leave, suspended or fired. The commissioner’s office will probably wait until the conclusion of the government’s investigation to determine whether to take disciplinary action against the employees or the team.
“The St. Louis Cardinals are aware of the investigation into the security breach of the Houston Astros’ database,” the team said in a statement. “The team has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so. Given that this is an ongoing federal investigation, it is not appropriate for us to comment further.”
The Houston Astros hired Luhnow as general manager in December 2011. Before then he had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals.
DAVID J. PHILLIP / ASSOCIATED PRESS
The case is a rare mark of ignominy for the Cardinals, one of the sport’s most revered and popular organizations. The team has the best record in the majors this season (43-21), regularly commands outsize television ratings and has reached the National League Championship Series nine times since 2000. The Cardinals, who last won the World Series in 2011, have 11 titles over all, second only to the Yankees.
From 1994 to 2012, the Astros and the Cardinals were division rivals in the N.L. For a part of that time, Mr. Luhnow was a Cardinals executive, primarily handling scouting and player development. One of many innovative thinkers drawn to the sport by the statistics-based “Moneyball” phenomenon, he was credited with building baseball’s best minor league system, and with drafting several players who would become linchpins of that 2011 Cardinals team.
The Astros hired Mr. Luhnow as general manager in December 2011, and he quickly began applying his unconventional approach to running a baseball team. In an exploration of the team’s radical transformation, Bloomberg Business called it “a project unlike anything baseball has seen before.”
Under Mr. Luhnow, the Astros have accomplished a striking turnaround; they are in first place in the American League West division. But in 2013, before their revival at the major league level, their internal deliberations about statistics and players were compromised, the law enforcement officials said.
The intrusion did not appear to be sophisticated, the law enforcement officials said. When Mr. Luhnow was with the Cardinals, the team built a computer network, called Redbird, to house all of its baseball operations information — including scouting reports and player information. After he left to join the Astros, and took some front-office personnel with him from the Cardinals, Houston created a similar program known as Ground Control.
It contained the Astros’ “collective baseball knowledge,” according to a Bloomberg Business article published last year. The program took a series of variables and weighted them “according to the values determined by the team’s statisticians, physicist, doctors, scouts and coaches,” the article said.
Investigators believe that Cardinals personnel, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals employees are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.
That tactic is often used by cybercriminals, who sell passwords from one breach on the underground market, where others buy them and test them on other websites, including banking and brokerage services. The breach on the Astros would be one of the first known instances of a corporate competitor using the tactic against a rival. It is also, security experts say, just one more reason people are advised not to use the same passwords across different sites and services.
Last year, some of the information from the Astros’ computers was posted anonymously online, according to an article on the website Deadspin. Among the details that were exposed were trade discussions that the Astros had with other teams. Mr. Luhnow was asked at the time whether the breach would affect how he dealt with other teams. “Today I used a pencil and paper in all my conversations,” he said.
Believing that the Astros’ network had been compromised by a rogue hacker, Major League Baseball notified the F.B.I., and the authorities in Houston opened an investigation. Agents soon found that the Astros’ network had been entered from a computer at a home that some Cardinals employees had lived in. The agents then turned their attention to the team’s front office.
“The F.B.I. aggressively investigates all potential threats to public- and private-sector systems,” an F.B.I. spokeswoman said. “Once our investigations are complete, we pursue all appropriate avenues to hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.”
Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting.
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Jon Jay and Allen Craig are among the Cardinals drafted during Jeff Luhnow's tenure in the St. Louis front office. Both players were instrumental during the Cardinals' 2011 championship run.
DOUG PENSINGER / GETTY IMAGES
By VICTOR MATHER
JUNE 16, 2015
It might seem a bit like a crooked politician breaking into the office of a rival who is at 2 percent in the polls, or a master spy choosing to snoop around the Embassy of Tonga.
Federal investigators suspect that front-office personnel of the St. Louis Cardinals hacked into the computer systems of a rival major league baseball team.
If the account is true, the team they chose was the Houston Astros, one of the worst in baseball for years.
What would be the motivation for a phenomenally successful team like the Cardinals poking around the databases of a perennial loser?
The answer appears to be Jeff Luhnow.
Luhnow was part of the wave of “Moneyball”-style executives who revolutionized baseball front offices at the start of the century.
A Penn and Northwestern graduate who had worked in consulting, he joined the Cardinals in 2003 despite having no baseball experience. After facing some initial skepticism, he started hitting home runs. He oversaw the team’s draft beginning in 2005 and showed an uncanny knack for finding talent.
Among the eventual major leaguers he drafted in his first three years were Colby Rasmus, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso, Jaime Garcia, Jon Jay, Luke Gregerson and Chris Perez. From 2005 through 2007 St. Louis drafted 24 players who became major leaguers by 2011, more than any other team.
In the years that followed, he drafted Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Lance Lynn, Kolten Wong and many others.
Luhnow’s international signings included pitchers Fernando Salas of Mexico and Eduardo Sanchez of Venezuela. The Cardinals played in three World Series and won two in his years there.
But in December 2011 he left the Cards for a promotion to general manager of the Astros, at that time a division rival and the worst team in baseball. Luhnow took along Sig Mejdal, a former NASA engineer; his title is director for decision sciences. Mejdal applied work he had done at NASA on astronauts’ decision making to improve the team’s drafting.
It is not known for sure what motivated the hacking that is alleged. Anger over Luhnow’s departure, or lingering bitterness over his time in St. Louis, where he was a polarizing figure, may have been a cause. Law enforcement officials say that the Cardinals could have suspected that Luhnow had taken proprietary information with him to Houston.
But the goal might also have been access to Ground Control, a vast database of Luhnow’s unquestioned baseball knowledge.
Since going to the Astros, Luhnow has used the team’s high draft picks to take the top prospects Mark Appel, a pitcher, and Carlos Correa, a shortstop.
He also cut the payroll drastically, leading to the team’s having abysmal seasons in 2012 and 2013. But in 2014 the Astros climbed back to respectability, and in 2015 they have completed an amazing turnaround by leading their division.
Things are looking up for baseball fans in Houston. And that seems to have attracted the attention of even a team as successful as the Cardinals.
2 posts • Page 1 of 1
Basically what happened was an IT guy set up a system for the Cardinals. He then left and took a job with Houston. The Cardinals were paranoid, and given their knowledge of his system, they broke in to see if Houston were stealing from them. None of the teams or MLB wanted this to be investigated, but a 3rd party reported it to the FBI.
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